SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The federal ranger whose stolen gun was used in the shooting death of Kate Steinle received a promotion five months after the woman’s death, a San Francisco Bay Area news station reported Friday.
Steinle’s suspected killer, Jose Ines Garcia-Zarate, is scheduled to go on trial for murder next week.
The woman’s death in July 2015 set off a national debate over sanctuary city policies, as the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office had refused to hold Garcia-Zarate for immigration authorities three months before the shooting. After serving 46 months in prison for felony re-entry into the United States, the undocumented immigrant and seven-time felon was released from jail after being arrested for selling marijuana.
While it’s not clear how Garcia-Zarate acquired the gun he says accidentally went off and killed the 32-year-old woman, investigators have confirmed the gun belonged to U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger John Woychowski.
Woychowski left the .40-caliber pistol in a backpack in an unattended vehicle parked in San Francisco, according to a wrongful death suit filed by Steinle’s family. How the gun ended up in the hands of Garcia-Zarate is unknown.
On Friday, NPR’s’ Bay Area affiliate KQED reported that internal emails show Woychowski was promoted to a supervisory position five months after Steinle’s death, even though leaving a government-issued firearm in an unattended vehicle violates BLM policies and California gun laws.
Garcia-Zarate’s public defense attorney Matt Gonzalez said the police department’s treatment of Woychowski during the homicide investigation would be presented to the jury during the murder trial.
Steinle’s parents, James Steinle and Elizabeth Sullivan, filed a wrongful death suit against the city of San Francisco and U.S. government in May 2016.
This past May, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero granted the family’s request to appeal his dismissal of claims against San Francisco based on its sanctuary city policy.
In January, Spero refused to dismiss claims against U.S. government for liability in Steinle’s death due to Woychowski’s government-issued firearm being left unattended in a vehicle. Because the level of connection between negligent conduct and an injury is relevant for establishing liability, Spero found claims against the government would be stronger with evidence that Garcia-Zarate stole the gun from Woychowski’s vehicle, rather than acquired it after the fact.
Garcia-Zarate’s defense attorneys are expected to argue that their client found the gun wrapped in a T-shirt and didn’t know what he was holding when it accidentally went off, according to KQED.
Facing a sentence of 45 years to life, Garcia-Zarate, 45, was going by the pseudonym Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez before his real name was revealed in court filings.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.